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Coat of Arms Exhibition

Our People. Our Symbols. Our Future: Designing a Coat of Arms or Emblem for the ACT

Student Led Showcase

Date: 29th June 2021 (Tuesday)

Location: Ann Harding Conference Centre

Time: 5pm –6.30pm

Throughout the semester, students from the Faculty of Arts and Design have been engaged in designing a new emblem or Coat of Arms for the Australian Capital Territory. Please join us on the 29 June to view selected works in this student showcase


Heraldic History and Heraldry in Australia

Heraldry is a broad discipline that encompasses the design, display and study of coats of arms and related insignia such as flags, pennants and badges. The conventions of contemporary heraldic language and design cannot be attributed to a specific time, although records in England date back to the 11th century. Heraldic symbols such as coats of arms have been used for centuries to represent individuals, monarchs, families, businesses, professions, towns and cities, countries, states and territories. In the 21st century coats of arms are still used to identify the standing and status of professions, individuals, business entities, and cities, states/territories and nations.

Heraldic tradition lays out several elements that may be included in a full heraldic achievement; the term ‘armorial achievement’ is used to describe the whole display showing shield, helmet, crest, mantling, wreath and additions such as a motto, mound and supporters. The most crucial element of any heraldic achievement is the shield, which must be included, whereas other elements may be omitted.

Heraldry in Australia began as a result of European colonisation, and early Australian coats of arms reflect this history. As the 20th century progressed, however, local Australian flora, fauna, natural features and Indigenous peoples have been increasingly incorporated into our coats of arms and other formal symbols. Some jurisdictions across the world are updating or replacing their coats of arms to reflect more modern, inclusive ideals and diverse societies. States and Territories across Australia have incorporated representations of the traditional custodians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, in formal emblems or other insignia to reflect a more modern take on the community’s historical and cultural relationships and contributions to these lands.


How the project came to be

Coats of Arms have existed for hundreds of years, and have evolved to represent adoption, alliance, ownership, and profession. Following the federation of Australia, in 1908 King Edward VII granted the Commonwealth Coat of Arms as the formal symbol of the Commonwealth of Australia. Every other Australian State and Territory has been granted a Coats of Arms to represent their jurisdiction and their capital city, however the ACT has only ever been granted a city Coat of Arms. As such, a Territory Coat of Arms will bring the ACT in line with the rest of Australia.

In 1927 the Federal Capital Commission announced a competition to design a coat of arms for the new city of Canberra. After a few amendments, Mr C R Wylie won the competition and in April 1928 a coat of arms was granted to the City of Canberra. The City of Canberra Coat of Arms consists of emblems and elements that represent the legislative, judicial and executive roles of the capital city of Australia. It also contains elements referencing Australia’s status as a Commonwealth country. Two elements represent the region’s native flora and fauna.


In 1989, at the time of ACT self-government, the new administration effectively appropriated for its own Territory use, the Canberra Coat of Arms, granted to the city of Canberra in 1928. Part of the design elements of that Coat of Arms were also adopted as the new ACT flag. Over the years the design of the Canberra Coat of Arms has attracted increasing criticism as it expresses little that is authentically Australian and projects a suite of symbols that are at odds with the values of the jurisdiction and its people. In addition there has been doubt among heraldry experts as to the legality of the Canberra Coat of Arms because of the way it was adopted.

The Legislative Assembly Committee recommended that the ACT Government obtain legal advice on the matter and, if there is no impediment, proceed to engage in a community consultative process for the design of an ACT Coat of Arms and its adoption by the Government. The Committee also recommended that steps should then be taken to revise, as appropriate, the design of the ACT flag. The government has since indicated that its legal advice is such that it intends to proceed, as a first step, with the design and adoption of an ACT Coat of Arms.


In 2018 the ACT Legislative Assembly held an inquiry into the Coat of Arms. It was acknowledged that to reflect the significant change in the region over almost a century since the adoption of the City of Canberra Coat of Arms, it was time to review the ACT’s representation as a Territory. In 2019, in response to the Committee’s recommendations, the ACT government agreed to develop a new Territory Coat of Arms which would complement rather than replace the City of Canberra Coat of Arms.

In consultation with the Ngunnawal community and key stakeholders across the ACT, a new Territory Coat of Arms or insignia will be developed to better represent our diverse, modern, and inclusive Territory.


Background to the Project

In late 2019 the ACT Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Environment, Transport and City Services presented the report on its inquiry into an ACT Coat of Arms. On 24 December 2019, the ACT Government accepted the recommendations of the report.

The Legislative Assembly inquiry followed advocacy from the ACT community over the previous decade for the adoption of a Coat of Arms that would more appropriately reflect the ACT community and its geographic and cultural features.

Following the Government’s announcement, the ACT Chief Minister’s Directorate initiated preliminary work on implementing the recommendations however this was largely overwhelmed by the bushfire emergency and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the ACT Government’s commitment to this initiative remains.


The task on which the ACT Government has now embarked will require expert design capabilities and specialist community consultation. The University’s Faculty of Arts and Design is uniquely placed to work collaboratively with the government in delivering this project. The opportunity to do so provides unique learning contexts for many in the Faculty and the rare chance to showcase the skills and capabilities of both the Faculty and the students in a high-profile civic project context. In addition, involvement in this project would give tangible expression to the strategic relationship between UC and the ACT Government. For both the Faculty and the University more generally, the project would be a case study in leveraging the expertise of UC to deliver a project outcome of major on-going civic importance and value.


Ngunnawal Community

In the coming weeks, the Ngunnawal community will provide further guidance regarding many elements of our regional flora and fauna as culturally significant in representing the Territory. It is important that this integral part of the Territory’s history is captured in a new Coat of Arms or insignia.


Student Led Semester

Throughout the semester, students from the heritage and visual communications departments have been engaged in discussion on designing a new emblem or Coat of Arms for the Australian Capital Territory. The post graduate students conducted seminars in order to delve into the topic of how best to represent the Coat of Arms. This was done in conjunction with the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) film and journalism students who have created a film and other press releases for the project.

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